Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The International Criminal Court announced this week that it will delay the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, a former senior official of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who has been charged with war crimes. Bemba's trial was supposed to start on April 27, 2010 but it has been pushed back to July 5, 2010. Gombo faces charges for alleged crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) between October 2002 and March 2003, including rape, murder, and pillaging.
The trial is being delayed because Mr. Bemba’s lawyers had challenged the admissibility of the case against him on the grounds of respecting the complementarity between the ICC’s work and that of authorities in the Central African Republic. They argued that he should not be tried before the Court because the ICC can only proceed where there are no national proceedings against those responsible for the alleged crimes. His defense team is also questioning “the lack of the requisite level of gravity” and “an abuse of process in the case against Mr. Bemba."
The Trial Chamber for the International Criminal Court said that is “in the interests of justice” to rule on the defence’s application before the start of the proceedings. The Office of the Prosecutor and the victims’ legal representatives have until March 29 to submit their observations. Authorities in both the CAR and the DRC must respond by April 19, 2010.
The trial chamber said that it will issue its decision after considering observations as well as oral submissions made at a status conference scheduled to be held on April 27, 2010.
The ICC’s pre-trial chamber confirmed last summer that Mr. Bemba had the “necessary criminal intent” when in 2002 he ordered his armed group, the Mouvement de libération du Congo (MLC), into the CAR to back up embattled leader Ange-Félix Patassé. It said that MLC fighters committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during that mission, with Mr. Bemba “effectively acting as military commander.”
He was transferred to the ICC in July 2008 after being arrested by Belgian police. Last September, the Court decided that Mr. Bemba will remain in custody until the start of his trial, reversing an earlier decision to grant him temporary conditional release.
The situation in the CAR is one of four – along with the Darfur region of Sudan, the DRC and Uganda – currently under investigation by the Prosecutor of the ICC, an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)